Wednesday, March 31, 2010

They Took the Tefillin

Monday night marked the beginning of Passover, the celebration of the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery. As has been the custom in Judaism for many centuries, we marked the first night of the holiday with a family seder. Over to the in-laws house we went, and also our cousins, to mark the occasion, drink our wine, eat brisket and matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish, search for lost matzoh, and occasionally be very silly. We concluded that ancient Egypt must have been a very smelly place during the plagues; after all, the people couldn't bath in a river of blood and after the boils it was too painful for them even to change clothes. The haggadah said so.

But why Monday night was different than all other nights couldn't be found in the maggid; it wasn't even a Passover story, particularly. That part started when we came home. I came home first, with the kids. At the top of the road, I saw a small car just sitting in the street; I expected it to turn on to the main road but it just sat there. Strange, I thought, but then as I passed I saw a woman inside, looking down at something. Maybe she was checking a map. I sometimes notices such things, never quite know what to make of them. Farther down the road toward our house, I can get a bit of a panoramic view of the house as I approach the driveway. I noticed that our bedroom light was on and said something to the effect of, "Lori left the light on... and the shades open!" Even when we're home, the bedroom lights are usually off. I might say something to Lori later, I thought.

After parking, the kids got out of the car first. A few moments later I heard Aaron call out, "hey, Mommy didn't close the door!" Well, I thought, it's a good thing we live in a safe neighborhood, but this is becoming strange. Forgetting to turn off the lights and forgetting to close the door??

Then I approached. A piece of molding... from the door?... was lying across the foyer, some insulation was on the floor, and also bits of drywall. Pieces of the door jamb, bent screws... the door was kicked in!! I looked in the window, at this computer. But I saw only the wall; the computer wasn't here. "Aaron! We've had a break-in! Don't touch anything"

It's hard to know, in that situation, whether to feel more hurt, violated, or... lucky. Maybe confused or surprised might be more accurate; after 16 years without the slightest evidence of any attempts at a break-in, here we were confronted with evidence of a real one, with real damage.

When I was 14, my childhood home was robbed, and the primary items taken were my things; I had never been more upset in my life. I discovered that one as well, and I remember the rage. Rage so severe I literally couldn't feel or sense anything other than the rage for some time after I discovered the theft. Not that my small coin collection was all that valuable; it really wasn't: a few Morgan silver dollars, a really pretty Mercury dime from 1942 that I had bought for a dollar and ten cents at the local coin shop, a few proof sets, things like that. It was the rage that someone had entered my house, gone in to my bedroom, knew to find the shoe-box in the closet where I kept my coins, and just removed the whole thing. The police eventually recovered most of it, and for more than 30 years the recovered coins continued to sit in the police evidence bag. I don't think they ever caught the person who did it, though I suspect that if I go to enough high school reunions I'll eventually get a confession from an ex-friend.

We started to look around. My initial fear of surprising a thief still in the house was brief; it was clear that we were alone. "Mommy's laptop is gone," Aaron reported. Mommy's laptop is vintage 2003. It was a very good laptop... in 2003. 768mb RAM. That's still almost as much as some new netbooks. Which is to say, it is not a thing that a thief looking for valuable items is likely to take. Back to my desk. The iMac: gone. The backup drive: gone. The video camera case: empty. Oh, right, I had left the video camera on top of the desk. ok, gone. The iPhone: gone. Damn, that was already a replacement for a stolen iPhone, though at least the first one was stolen from someone else. My digital SLR camera case: hmmm.... still there!

But the iMac is gone. The pictures. Almost 15,000 of them. Well, at least I uploaded all the bar mitzvah pictures to shutterfly, and I see the CostCo DVDs with all the old 35 millimeter conversions, so I probably still have half of them, at least. But Lori might be happy: our insurance was for replacement value, and that would mean a new laptop.

Aaron came up from the basement: "My computer is gone." Just the prior day, I had reluctantly let him use his Target gift card to purchase Grand Theft Auto IV. Very reluctantly. Lori was not happy and let him know it. He had just finished loading it before seder, and... the disc was still in the machine.. Fighting back tears, Aaron told me that at least mommy might be happy now, as he had not gotten to play the game yet and now he never would. Still, despite getting a new laptop and no "Grand Theft Auto 4," I figured Lori wouldn't actually be happy.

The thieves targeted electronics and jewelry. My old laser disc player from 1992: gone. The one flat screen TV in the house: gone. The Wii: gone.

I called the in-laws, and the police. I suppose we should have the police number handy: without a computer to find the number on the web, I was left with the phone book, and it just wasn't easy to find. Lori walked in and asked what was going on; she had already left when I spoke to the in-laws and had no idea anything was up until she walked in. The police showed up a few minutes later. Officer Tash asked questions about when we were out, had we had any new people or workers at the house recently, what was taken, exactly, etc. Though the damage was substantial in terms of quantity, at least the house damage -- except for around the door -- was minimal. The Officer Lamb turned the dining room table in to the local CSI. He eventually found a good print on the front door.

Lori and I discovered that the thieves, in addition to targeting electronics, had also gone through the bedroom. Rifled through the draws, pulled shoe-box after shoe-box off the top shelf of the closet, searched under the mattress. The shoe-boxes had no coins in them, just new shoes; I had bought a bunch when a local chain store went out of business a few years ago. They had grabbed a bunch of expired credit cards that I had no shredded; the credit card companies assure me that there is no value, even toward identity theft, in those old cards.

Our neighbor came over, and then sent out an email to the subdivision announcing the burglary and asking if anyone had seen or heard anything. One neighbor reported having seen an odd Ford minivan in the street, that had just been sitting there, appeared to have many boxes in it. Seemed like a lead.

As the CSI was going on, we got a call from Officer Tash: A van had been found (a van? a Ford van? could it be?). Were we missing any cutlery? No. The thieves either missed the cutlery, or had no interest; it looks like they skipped the dining room and kitchen altogether. Were we missing any large containers of toilet paper? Excuse me??? Well, yes, we are CostCo shoppers and we recently bought toilet paper. I checked: toilet paper was still there. False alarm.

Finally, officer Lamb left with his prints, leaving behind black dust everywhere he had found potential prints. Elianna was besides herself with grief over the loss of a necklace locket that grandma had recently given her, a 70-year old heirloom from grandma's youth. We propped up a bag with ski boots against the door to keep it closed.

5am, the phone rings. This time the description is a match. Turns out there was more in the van than just cutlery and toilet paper. Could I come over to the Franklin Police station -- next town over -- to identify? When I got to the station, Officer Hirschfeld was waiting for me, and took me to the evidence room. And here, miraculously, just 9 hours after we called the police, were our things, including some things I didn't expect: Lori's power drill. My 20-year old film camera, in its bag. And then, my tefillin bag. They stole my tefilllin!! I looked at Officer Hirschfeld and said, nearly laughing "I can't believe they took that." Who steals tefillin? Is there a market for stolen tefillin? ok, ok, I understand, the thieves had no idea what it was, and probably figured there were jewels or valuables in there (I don't think they opened the bag). Officer Hirschfeld, without missing a beat, asked, "is that your tefillin?" Not... "is that yours" or "what is that," but very specifically, with the bag still closed, "is that your tefillin?" "Yes, officer, they took the tefillin... Are you Jewish?" ok, the last question was totally unnecessary, but if I ever wanted to know why this morning was different than all other mornings, I guess getting tefillin recovery from the Jewish policeman in Franklin would rank reasonably high on the list.

By 5pm the front door was repaired and the stolen goods released to us; they had been at two separate police stations, but they all managed to talk and get everything together. The thieves? At large. The van was stolen several weeks ago in a car-jacking at gun point. Several other robberies had been reported involving the van: one in Franklin, one in Chesterfield. One robbery had been of a gun cache. We could consider ourselves lucky we did not intercept them ourselves. Somehow, they had driven the van in to a ditch on a residential street, and were trying to push it out of the ditch when they were approached. They fled on foot, apparently taking the iPhone with them. We tried to use GPS to track the iPhone, but it was not precise enough to catch them before the signal went dead. Maybe the fingerprints will eventually help make a case.

For now, we are whole. Sort of. At least, everything has been put back together for now. We went to 2nd seder last night. At one point, a question went around as to what one item we'd want with us if we had to wander the desert for 40 years. Elianna's reply: "a locket that my grandma gave me that's 70 years old and shaped like a heart."

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